September 16 – CUMBERLAND – In January 2020, fearing the Cobb board of directors would ‘kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’, former Governor Roy Barnes urged his members to extend a funding deal with the Cobb- Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority.
Less than two months later, the pandemic struck and those discussions were frozen.
Exhibit Hall Authority CEO Michele Swann said she had started speaking with members of Cobb’s board of commissioners in the hope that by the end of the year they would extend the The authority’s current revenue-sharing agreement with the county until 2053, an agreement that would allow it to pursue expensive, long-term projects needed to remain competitive with other Atlanta metro sites.
The Exhibition Hall Authority owns and operates the Cobb Galleria Center, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, ArtsBridge Foundation and Galleria Specialty Shops and is funded, in part, by an 8% hotel / motel tax.
Of the total proceeds from this hotel tax, a share goes to cities and Cobb Travel and Tourism. The rest is shared between the county and the Exhibit Hall Authority. The county gets 37.5%, and the authority, 62.5%. The deal that fixed the split at its current rate is expected to expire in 2026, according to the authority’s spokeswoman Karen Caro; the authority hopes to maintain this share at 62.5% until 2053.
At that January 2020 committee meeting, Barnes was joined by several county heavyweights, including members of the authority’s board; members of the Cobb Travel and Tourism Board; Cobb Chamber of Commerce officers Sharon Mason, John Loud and Mitch Rhoden; the mayor of Acworth, Tommy Allegood; and two executives from the Renaissance Waverly, a Cumberland hotel.
“Without our ability to continue to improve this facility – not just maintain it, but improve it – we will lose ground to our (competitors),” said Bob Voyles, board member of the authority, at this meeting. “The great thing about the motel tax is that it creates a revenue stream that you can bond and borrow money on, and that’s always how these facilities are built, improved and added. “
The Cobb Galleria Center is a convention center that also has an indoor shopping center, the Galleria Specialty Shops. If the board of commissioners extended the current funding agreement until 2053, it would renovate the convention center and convert the Galleria’s specialty shops into a headquarters hotel and meeting space, Swann said this week.
At that January 2020 commission meeting, Lisa Cupid, then commissioner representing South Cobb, said she would like the county to receive a larger share of hotel / motel tax revenue.
“If we continue to invest our money in entities that do not spread out where it is needed… you are just going to see this gap widen further,” said Cupid, referring to the disparities and needs between communities within by Cobb. “If we’re going to tie this source of funding for the next 20 plus years, 30 years, (I think) we should be looking at how we can make it a countywide win.”
She would later say the proceeds could go to other county attractions, such as Six Flags, which “hasn’t received much support.”
“I think we can be creative in how we support these two great assets that we have at Cobb,” she said at the time. “My concern is that if we keep the same funding mechanism… it would result in an insufficient investment to take over other parts of the county.”
Then-president Mike Boyce said he would recuse himself from a vote on the issue, given his position on the authority’s board. (Cobb’s chairman of the board of trustees sits on several other boards by virtue of his position, including that of showroom authority.)
Cupid, who replaced Boyce as chairman of the commission in January, was more cautious when asked about the authority’s request on Wednesday.
“At the moment, we are still in preliminary discussions on this matter,” she said. “I would definitely like travel and tourism to be better supported throughout the county. I also want the assets of the Cumberland region to continue to thrive. Hope we will find a solution.
“With regard to abstention, I sit on a number of boards and committees due to my position and if I were to abstain from voting on all related matters I would be unduly hampered in my ability. That said, for this particular issue, I do not see any current conflict that prevents me from voting in a way that puts the interests of the county first. “
MDJ reporter Chart Riggall contributed to this report